The International Economic Develpoment Council, or IEDC, has designated 2016 as the Year of the Economic Developer and the week of May 8th as Economic Development Week. As noted by IEDC, economic developers drive economic growth by building strategies that create and maintain jobs and capital investment in their localities, regions and states.
Hastings County re-invested in economic development in 2007 and I thought I'd take advantage of "Economic Development Week" to outline a number of successes and outcomes over the past 9 years.
First, while "economic development" is often confused with economic growth or industrial development, according to a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, "it is generally accepted to be a proactive collaborative process within which there are a multiplicity of efforts that collectively serve to improve economic progress and quality of life". As well, I recently participated in an IEDC 2-day course co-facilitated by Guillermo Mazier of Atlas Advertising, and I thought it was interesting that he noted “economic developers are community builders and connectors, not business and job creators”. Guillermo also said, “think of economic development as relationship management (awareness and company services) and then the outcomes ideally will be jobs and capital investment”.
Okay then, over the past 9 years what has Hastings County done for economic development? First, I like to say that we have built the foundation. We established an Economic Development Action Plan based on consultation with more than 130 local stakeholders. We packed the municipal hall in Eldorado with members of County Council, the Warden, representatives of our member municipalities and people from our local business and tourism sectors. We collected their ideas and used their input to prioritize actions. A second updated Plan was approved by the Planning & Development Committee and County Council in 2014 and this Plan is what guides our actions through to 2018. Accompanying this plan has been a County Council approved and award winning Investment Marketing Strategy, a Tourism Master Plan and Cultural Plan.
In addition to developing plans and strategies, the County created a central office where entrepreneurs can receive professional advice and assistance with their business no matter where across our 14 member municipalities they are or wish to locate. We also provide assistance and leadership with place-based development initiatives, in partnership with member municipalities and community stakeholders, to make Hastings County even more attractive for people to locate and have a business here.
It is the Action Plan, and the foundation that we established, that led to the following programs, services and outcomes:
- Enterprise Facilitation: We implemented a small business coaching program in 2009 which has helped more than 431 local entrepreneurs start, expand or stay in business;
- Growth in jobs & businesses: According to Statistics Canada, our 14 member municipalities combined enjoyed a 14% rise in the number of businesses between the years 2009 and 2012 and a 6% growth in jobs between 2006 and 2011 census years;
- Senior government funding: More than $1.5 million in funding from external sources and senior levels of government has been secured to support the development and implementation of a number of our strategic initiatives;
- Harvest Hastings: Staff assisted with the foundation of the Harvest Hastings initiative which expanded awareness of local food/forestry products and farm gate opportunities;
- Tourism Development Master Plan: This plan was developed, and will be updated this year, which identifies recreational geology, wellness opportunities, outdoor recreation, arts & culture and agri-tourism as key assets;
- Hastings Opportunities in Tourism (HOT): The HOT initiative was created to support our local entrepreneurs in the tourism industry. This includes the annual “HOTie” Tourism Business Awards and the promotion of “HOT Spots” (businesses and attractions across the County);
- Visitor Information Centre staff training: We have coordinated training for summer tourism staff to help ensure they are ready to respond to inquiries;
- Workshops/Seminars: With the Small Business Centre and other partners, coordinated numerous workshops and seminars of interest to entrepreneurs. More than 1,200 people have attended the workshops we have coordinated or supported;
- Farm Show & Plowing Match: We coordinate a 60 X 40 foot tent display at the annual two-day Farm Show to promote the County and invite member municipalities and other stakeholders to have a display in the tent;
- Creative Hastings: We held a series of networking events across the County called “Creative Hastings”. These events featured up to five local entrepreneurs who would speak briefly about their business and product and their speeches were recorded and uploaded to YouTube;
- “Communities with Opportunities”: We developed an investment marketing strategy that we currently utilize and it won the Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Marketing Excellence, the highest economic development award in Ontario;
- Cultural Plan: In partnership with the Cities of Belleville & Quinte West, we developed the first regional cultural plan in Ontario. Some notable accomplishments to-date include hosting a Cultural Summit on October 6, 2015, bringing Arts Councils together for networking & collaboration in April, 2014, developed a region-wide calendar of events, an interactive cultural map and a collection of local stories on the new Cultural Portal, and held a networking event with local museum and heritage attraction organizers at Farmtown Park on May 26, 2015.
- Arts Route: Established the Arts Route to promote creative artisans and their galleries across Hastings County;
- FAB Region: Founded an artisan food & beverage (FAB Region) investment marketing initiative in partnership with neighbouring counties promoting investment in value added agri-ventures (i.e. craft brewing handbook developed);
- Social Media Strategy: We are active on various social media channels including Facebook and Twitter to promote Hastings County to ‘Lone Eagles’ and other Toronto audiences in particular to entice them to relocate here;
- Ontario East Economic Development: We are actively involved in the investment marketing initiatives of the Ontario East Economic Development Commission including the Tourism Investment and Rural Opportunities Teams.
What is underway or in the works for 2016?
The following outlines some recently implemented, or soon to be projects, that staff will be focussing time on in 2016:
- Earth Sciences Centre: We continue to work with the Town of Bancroft and other stakeholders in the mineral collecting and First Nation’s communities to develop a Feasibility and Business Plan for the proposed Earth Sciences Centre;
- Update of the Tourism Master Plan: We are committed to an updated Plan to provide a strategic outlook and guide for the next 3- years for tourism development in Hastings County;
- Cultural Portal : We will continue the roll out of the Cultural Portal, launched at the Cultural Summit in October, 2015, to ensure the public are aware of its presence and benefits;
- New Harvest Hastings Brand and Website: We are assisting Harvest Hastings with a new marketing strategy and website;
- Labour Force Development: We would like to explore connecting with senior high school students, in partnership with the Small Business Centre, to educate them on potential business opportunities and programs that provide assistance. A thought is perhaps a survey could be employed to determine what post-secondary education will be pursued to help identify potential new employees for our local businesses;
- Overview brochure: This involves development of a simple small handout to explain our economic development services and why Hastings County is the place to invest. This can be given to our elected officials, member municipalities and partners;
- Destination Marketing: We will draft and issue a formal Request for Proposal for the coordination of a County-wide approach to destination marketing services in 2017 and beyond;
- Tourism Awards Celebration: We plan to organize, promote and host the Annual Tourism Awards this Fall in partnership with Bay of Quinte Tourism and other organizations; and,
- Podcasts: We are exploring the possibility of a setting up a podcast covering entrepreneurship in Hastings County featuring interviews with local entrepreneurs and others.
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